April 8, 2011

A challenge for the IPL

Coming hot on the heels of the World Cup, will the fourth season be able to compel fans to shift their loyalties?

It is not yet five days, as I write this, since an assured India beat a spirited Sri Lanka in the world's premier tournament, which comes but once in four years and already so much has happened in the world. The IPL is upon us (Sholay one week, Deewaar the next?), an admirable duo have relinquished their positions in Sri Lanka, and a sprightly septuagenarian has launched a mass movement against corruption in India. Truly, we live in a 24x7 world.

And to my great delight, Tendulkar's moment immediately after the final ended gave way to Dhoni's Cup a day later. It was as it should be, for Dhoni had led magnificently, used the resources he had very well, and didn't always worry about what he didn't have. He is a young man not afraid of criticism, backs his instinct (right most days, wrong on some) and has a wonderful ability of not rendering complex things that are essentially simple. Great leaders have that ability.

The spontaneous outpouring of joy showed the great power of sport to unite people. Suddenly people were singing the national anthem, looking at a flag with pride. India needed that. I have often said that cricket is merely a sport but on Saturday night it transcended that. A group of young men played honestly and with spirit, something older men in Indian public life had miserably failed to do. Even as the political class flocked to a cricket ground, the game did something they hadn't been able to do: bring cheer to a nation.

And so here's the question. Can this huge upsurge in feeling for a country be able to reconcile with support for a city? Over three years the IPL has managed to do that very successfully but never has it found a setting like it does this year. Can Dhoni and Gambhir of India be seen to be Dhoni of Chennai Super Kings and Gambhir of Kolkata Knight Riders (not even Delhi Daredevils!) so quickly? Can a tearful Yuvraj collapsing into Tendulkar's arms morph into Yuvraj of the Pune Warriors (not King's XI) against Tendulkar of the Mumbai Indians? Indeed, can the extraordinary success of the World Cup come in the way of the success of cricket's premier commercial property?

Or do we underestimate the fervour of the Indian cricket fan? For the alternative is that the fan so loves his/her cricket that he/she cannot wait for more. In much the manner that the success of Dabanng cannot come in the way of Band Bajaa Baraat. So will 8pm become an appointment slot again?

It will be interesting to see how India reacts, especially to the realisation that the players they thought belonged to them don't anymore. So fans of Gautam Gambhir will suddenly have to start supporting KKR, while the Deccan Chargers will have to come to terms with the fact that their favourite bowler, RP Singh, is now a Kochi Tusker and their best batsman, Rohit Sharma, a Mumbai Indian. It won't be easy and that is why I hope the auction we had in January is the last there will be.

It is going to be a challenge for the IPL, even if, inherently, it is a strong offering. I believe, though, that the IPL will overcome the challenge if it can be perceived as something quite different from the heavy, patriotism-driven cricket that the World Cup was. If the change of personnel can be looked upon as an actor replacing another in the same role. But challenges are not new to the IPL; they have been countered before and so you must wish it well; hope that chants of "Aala re" or "Korbo lodbo jeetbo" or even "Whistle podu" ring in the stadiums. The IPL has its place as much as the other forms do.

On a sad note, a cricket lover passed away this week. Trevor Chesterfield was a much travelled man, moving from New Zealand to South Africa, and made his home in Sri Lanka in his later years. People like him make our game richer with their enthusiasm.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2011, 15:44 GMT

    There was a talk recently on cricinfo with Harsha Bhogle ,Sambit Bal and others on intrusive advertising on tv.The constant barrage of ads and L-shaped popups only underscore the fact that Cricket has been reduced to a filler between the ads.The brain dead middle class has been reduced to eating salty popcorn and sipping extra sugary cola .Geoffrey Boycott talked about overkill and tournaments not being special anymore.Mahendra Singh Dhoni spoke about mental and physical exhaustion while talking to reporters in a recent press conference.

    The IPL is a cash cow for some but the current version of IPL is also witnessing audience fatigue.One can see it in the empty stadiums for some of the games.But our cricket board insists on playing because the tv rights have been already sold for enormous sums.They don't give a damn if their Delhi Dipsticks play the Mumbai Wankers or the Kolkata Cock Blowers in front of half empty stadiums.It remains to be seen how long this sad joke will go on.

  • sachin on April 11, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    India have a few important tours ahead of them against West Indies, England & Australia, & yet their players are exhausting themselves playing in a pointless tournament which is nothing but a cash-cow. I suppose Indian cricket-fans won't learn about how dangerous IPL is until their national players start falling dead left, right & centre.

  • Dummy4 on April 10, 2011, 17:36 GMT

    Are the members of Indian cricket team game for IPL so soon after the mentally and physically grueling world cup? The BCCI is ruining the game in India by forcing cricketers to play too much cricket. What the Indian cricket needs is an overhaul, similar to the proposed Jan Lokpal bill; the tours/schedules should be drawn up by a committee that includes cricketers as well. The players should not be treated as bonded laborers, but in fact should have a greater say in the way cricket is run in this country.

  • Sundar on April 10, 2011, 5:56 GMT

    WC 2011 is a nice peak to scale for this Indian team, but greater challenges lie ahead. A win against England in England, Australia in Australia would be even nicer. Sachin has never won a test series against Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa. Hope he gets to do that by next year.

  • Vishwanath on April 9, 2011, 23:33 GMT

    A group of young men played honestly and with spirit, something older men in Indian public life had miserably failed to do. Even as the political class flocked to a cricket ground, the game did something they hadn't been able to do: bring cheer to a nation. - that was probably some of your best writing Harsha.

  • Dummy4 on April 9, 2011, 12:19 GMT

    Indian lives on cricket, yesterday last ball finish was all that was all required to let people know IPL have started. Many more exciting Matches to come our way.

  • kumar on April 8, 2011, 22:35 GMT

    To be honest Harsha i think time gap between two big events are really small. As cricket fan i still want keep replying that Dhoni in India's T-shirt and see that last ball getting in stands! Not so much as in Yellow t-shirt. i just think its very bad timing im still on hang over of WORLD CUP india winning over some state league which no doubt is good but if it was every two year would have been better than just every year and def not around some huge ICC huge event

  • S on April 8, 2011, 18:22 GMT

    Harsha: It is more like SHOLAY for seven weeks and DEEWAR for the next NINE weeks.

  • Vijay on April 8, 2011, 18:18 GMT

    I don't see what the big deal about this is because it happens all the time in football.Domestic and National teams are DIFFERENT.

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    @ B_Sameer_Kumar couldn't agree more. At least there should have been a 3 weeks gap. With all my admiration for our champs I don't want to see any one of them taking a break during West Indies or England tour due to fatigue. This was/is the best time for the same. And BCCI as usual your scheduling leaves everyone speechless!

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